Last modified: September 22, 2018

Central California Fishing Piers

Capitola Wharf

Oh, that 36 fish day I heard about…. Never happened. I talked to Ed at the boat rental about it and he said no way. There were 6 caught on the wharf that day if I remember correctly, and about 12 from skiffs. There was a 14-lb salmon caught from the wharf yesterday too. Great day out there. I’m still buzzing over all the cool stuff. Ed

King Salmon — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle

Date: November 17, 2004; To: PFIC Message Board; From: FakeFisherman; Subject: Capitola Pier Report

After poking around the archives for some new piers to check out, I decided to head down to Capitola with a friend to check out the wharf. We missed the incoming tide, unfortunately, but it was a quick drive down from Palo Alto. Got there at around the top of the tide and fished the surf for a while. It was a really beautiful day.

Threw out some mussels and ghost shrimp and got some taps and finally reeled in a silver surfperch (released) on the mussels. There were lots of very large pileperch feeding around the pilings. One guy was trying to snag some, but no luck. Not much else happened so we moved out towards the end and threw out some squid and anchovies. My friend brought in a smallish kingfish, her first, and then her first baby bat ray. As the sun started to go down we nailed kingfish after kingfish, but they were TINY. Gave a couple of the decent-sized ones to a cool Jamaican dude (a regular there, I think) that was also fishing there. Thought about using some as bait but didn’t think there was anything other than the babies that would be biting. The fog and cold rolled in around 6:30 so we headed out.

Total: 1 – silver surfperch — 1 – baby bat ray — 2 – kingfish — 18 – micro kingfish — 3 – bullheads — 1 – micro sanddab

This was a really nice pier and relaxing day out. If it weren’t for PFIC I wouldn’t have known to check it out!

Sand Sole — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle

Date: June 14, 2007; To: PFIC Message Board; From: tenaciousD; Subject: White seabass at Capitola

I just got back from the pier literally 2 minutes ago. The bite was still hot, but not for white seabass. Stripers were hitting live anchovies really hard, but unfortunately not swimbaits or topwaters. I was there for 1.5 hrs throwing out a Big Hammer bait fish color 6” swimbait w/ 3/4oz head. One good tap on my 3rd cast out that nearly took my swimbait off, but nothing after that. In my short time on the wharf, four stripers were landed, two seemingly over the 10-lb. mark, and all looked like keepers. The bite seemed to have died down in the last 15-20 min that I was there, but I’m sure it was only temporary.

Striped Bass — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle

Potpourri — Possibly More Than You Want To Know About The Capitola Wharf

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — Fish and Game fish surveys done from 2004-2009 showed 26 different species as follows (numerically) — northern anchovy, white croaker, jacksmelt, barred surfperch, shiner perch, walleye surfperch, calico surfperch, topsmelt, silver surfperch, black perch, brown rockfish, pile perch, Pacific mackerel, white seaperch, Pacific sardine, blue rockfish, Pacific sanddab, staghorn sculpin, leopard shark, sand sole, rock sole, starry flounder,  gopher rockfish, grass rockfish, vermilion rockfish, thornback ray. Surprisingly no striped bass or halibut were recorded even though many were caught.

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — You just never know!

Fish Rap — Saltwater Report

Big fish honors this week go to angler Larry Roland. While soaking a 7-inch smelt off the Capitola Wharf last week, Roland hooked a rare giant black sea bass. The barrel-shaped beauty, estimated to weigh around 40 pounds, provided a lively 15-minute fight fro Roland. Ed Burrell provided a timely assist from Capitola Boat and Bait, using his shore boat to net the fish. A quick picture was taken, and the fish was successfully released.

Allen Bushnell, Fish Rap, Santa Cruz Sentinel, September 14, 2006

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — Capitola Boat & Bait is located mid-pier and is one of the best-run pier tackle shops that I have seen and deserves congratulations for a job well done. A full line of fresh and frozen baits are available as is tackle, rod and reel rentals, crab nets, snacks and drinks, and a wide variety of odds and ends catering to both anglers and non-anglers. Boats, of course, can be rented and pictures of the catches are pretty impressive. Of note is that live anchovies are available some summers. This is one of the few remaining piers in California that (sometimes) offers live anchovies (and the only pier in northern California). The shop even offers free pier fishing seminars (“Learn to Fish Off the Wharf”). Perhaps most impressive to me is the professionalism of every employee that I have met. By the way, one of the pier’s most unusual catches of recent years was made when Frank Ealy, owner of the bait shop, decided to drift a live Spanish mackerel (jack mackerel) from the pier in early September of ’98. He was rewarded for his efforts with a 40-pound giant (black) seabass that was gently returned to the water. Shortly thereafter, Ed Burrell, one of Ealy’s employees, was drifting a live Pacific mackerel off the (Seacliff Pier) Cement Ship in 32 feet of water when he hooked and landed a nearly identical fish. A third giant (black) sea bass, was caught from the wharf in September of 2006. The fish was taken on a live jacksmelt and 12-pound test line and weighed, like the first two, 40 pounds. It was netted, weighed, and released back into the water.

Giant Kelpfish

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — In the DF&G Fish Bulletin 130, Miller and Gotshell reported that the pier was the farthest north location where queenfish, Seriphus politus, were recorded during their Oregon to Point Arguello survey, with “several taken in 1963 at Capitola pier.”

Barracuda caught in 1997

<*}}}}}}}}}>< Although the pier is not a noted place to catch sharks, quite a few nice-sized Selachians have been taken over the years. I’ve never heard of a salmon shark being taken from the wharf but apparently they are in these waters.

Scientists Puzzled Over Dead Salmon Sharks

Nearly a dozen dead juvenile salmon sharks, disoriented by brain infections and often mistaken for baby great whites, have washed up along Central Coast shores in the past month. And it’s not the first time, although it’s the greatest number in recent memory, researchers say…

Every summer for the past decade, dead baby salmon sharks have inexplicably beached themselves, an uncommon occurrence because sharks tend to sink to the bottom of the ocean when they die.

Necropsies conducted at Stanford University and Long Marine Lab at UC Santa Cruz have shown that most of the salmon sharks had bacteria-induced brain infections at the time of their deaths, but shark experts still don’t know the source of the bacteria.

Even more baffling are the salmon sharks themselves, which are rarely spotted alive in the waters of the Central Coast but whose numbers are legion in the Gulf of Alaska – so much so that they’ve been referred to as the “poor man’s marlin” among fishermen whose livelihoods hinge on catching them.

“There’s a mystery in the Monterey Bay and the mystery is that something that looks like a baby white shark dies on our shores every year,” said Dave Casper, a veterinarian with Long Marine Lab at UC Santa Cruz. “And yet we never catch live salmon sharks in the bay. But we know they have to be there if they’re washing up on our shores.”… The deep waters off the Central Coast serve as an annual “pupping grounds” for the adult female sharks, who each year migrate from as far north as Prince William Sound in Alaska to as far south as Southern California waters, said Sean Van Sommeran, executive director of the Santa Cruz-based Pelagic Shark Research Foundation.

Van Sommeran and his foundation have been busy lately, collecting the vast majority of dead sharks after they’ve been discovered, whether near the Capitola Wharf, as was the case a few weeks ago, or just outside Half Moon Bay, the most recent find two days ago.

—Tom Ragan, San Jose Mercury News

Dogfish — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle

<*}}}}}}}}}>< Every summer the shearwaters (Sooty, Short-tailed, Pink-footed, and Buller’s) descend on the waters of Monterey Bay, especially the waters between Santa Cruz, Capitola and Seacliff. It’s part of their annual trip that takes them from Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania up to Japan and Asia, across to Alaska and down the coast to California before heading back across the ocean. Their numbers have been estimated to reach two million in the local waters and their behavior led to the creation of a fairly famous movie. Several decades ago they seemed to drop out of the sky on Capitola, a story reported by the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Alfred Hitchcock, who vacationed in Santa Cruz, saw the story and sent a clipping to Hollywood where it was turned into the script for a movie—The Birds.

Barred Surfperch — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle

<*}}}}}}}}}>< Like many beach towns in California, parking in Capitola, especially in the small area near the beach, is almost always gnarly. During the summer tourist season, and/or weekends, it can not only be  gnarly but nightmarish. There is metered parking on the streets but it is limited to two hours and gone quickly. City parking lots are available but they’re expensive. That’s why the city runs shuttle buses from more distant parking lots to the beach most weekends.

The best way to alleviate this problem is to arrive early in the day when the pier is first opening up. Generally there will be some parking spaces available up the hill on Cliff Drive (a fairly short walk to the wharf). The spaces are also metered but provide longer times for parking. However, later in the day even those spaces may be gone. Fish early or fish late (although the restaurants and bars stay open late so even evening hours may be crowded). Nevertheless, anglers do find parking, do find their way to the pier, and they do catch fish.

However, there is one time you probably should just forget visiting the wharf. That time is during the annual “Wharf to Wharf Race” that starts at the Santa Cruz Wharf and winds up at the Capitola Wharf. It is held on the fourth Sunday in July and “limited” to 15,000 runners. The race, started in 1973, is one of the biggest local events and a lot of fun but simply clogs the entire infrastructure around Capitola’s Wharf. I guess you could come “really, really early” and stay “really, really late” but for myself, I’ll pick a day when the road is less traveled.

Starry Flounder Hybrid — Picture courtesy of Capitola Pier Bait and Tackle

<*}}}}}}}}}>< You never know what you’re going to see on piers and an October visit in 2013 proved that thought true. My friend Hashem and I were fishing out at the end of the wharf when a group of about ten people, some adults and some youngsters, showed up hauling a big wooden ramp out to the end. Luckily no one was in the exact spot where they wanted the ramp to sit or there might have been a problem. Their goal as it turned out was to bicycle off the ramp and into the sea. The fact that the activity might not exactly be good for the fishermen, and there were several people fishing, did not seem to be a concern. A crowd gathered, divers went into the water, and people readied their cameras. We never saw the conclusion because we were scheduled to be in Santa Cruz and had to leave. Was it a commercial for a shop, something for YouTube, or just an exercise for the group? We never found out nor did we find out if they had a permit to take over the end of the pier for their plunge.

2 Responses

  1. Any  handicap parking ? Parking information 

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